Utah’s Somer Love Battles CF with Kindness and Strength

By Larry Luxner of CF News Today

Somer Love is sitting at her favorite local hangout, the Landmark Grill in suburban Midvale, happily devouring her lunch. Looming on the horizon to the east are Utah’s majestic Wasatch Mountains, but at more than 10,000 feet above sea level, the range is strictly off-limits to Love — as is nearby Park City and its famous ski resorts, at 7,000 feet above sea level.

That’s because cystic fibrosis (CF) has left Love with only 27 percent of normal lung function.

“I haven’t been to Denver since I was a kid, because it’s harder to breathe there. Even Salt Lake City, at 4,500 feet, is hard,” she told Cystic Fibrosis News Today in a recent interview. “Growing up I was fine, because my lungs were healthier. But I think living in Utah at this higher elevation actually helped strengthen my lungs.”

Love, 39, moved here from New Jersey with her parents when she was nine months old. At 11 months she was diagnosed with CF after her mother had heard that babies who have a salty taste when kissed should be taken for testing.

“We were outside playing in a playpen, and I tasted salty,” she said. “My mom called our pediatrician for a sweat test. I was super healthy and fat. The doctor was probably thinking ‘crazy lady from Jersey.’ But she talked him into doing it, and when the results came back, he called my mother crying.”

Growing up, Love received treatment from the Intermountain Cystic Fibrosis Center located at Primary Children’s Hospital and University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Both centers are accredited by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) and serve mostly patients from Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming — with some coming from as far away as Montana and Nevada.

Love’s first hospitalization was at age 6; she began taking enzymes at 8, because no drugs were available back then. In eighth grade, she got her first nebulized medication.

‘Love to Breathe’

Because of her disease, she quickly developed a strong sense of activism and self-reliance.

“I’ve always been a really positive person. This stems from my parents, with whom I’m very close,” Love said. “They started the local CF chapter here and were on the board. They did everything in their power to help me. When you’re faced with such a challenge, you can either overcome it, or do nothing and let it overcome you.”

She added: “CF is basically my life, especially now that my disease has progressed. From the minute I wake up till the minute I go to bed, I’m constantly thinking about it. I literally think about every breath I take. I’m actually grateful for CF; it’s a blessing in an ugly disguise. It makes me appreciate things more.”

No surprise, then, that the website Love launched in 2001 is called “Love to Breathe” — a play on her last name.

Among other things, the site contains a blog with nearly 700 entries, a compendium of facts about CF, and dozens of photos, videos, and original paintings. There’s also a page dedicated to the CF activist’s #LoveToBreathe tokens; she’s sent out more than 10,000 of these little medallions to CF patients and supporters in all 50 U.S. states and more than 70 countries.

“I wanted parents to have a place to go for their newly diagnosed children,” she said. “There’s a lot of negativity out there on the Internet, and I wanted people to see somebody being positive. I’m an artist, so I started by sending my paintings to fundraisers all over the country.”

Love said the Internet is especially helpful to CF patients due to the isolating nature of the disease. “We cannot be around any other CF patients, so we connect online,” she said. “My website is a personal endeavor, a way for me to spread love and CF awareness.”

Even so, her main focus is on staying healthy. That means spending six hours a day doing her airway clearance and taking all her medications — about 60 to 80 pills daily. Her morning treatments are one-and-a-half to two hours each, and she must sterilize her “neb cups” afterward.

The transplant option

Love has been taking Symdeko (tezacaftor/ivacaftor and ivacaftor) twice a day ever since the combo therapy — developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals — was approved in February 2018 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But she must eat 10 to 20 grams of fat beforehand.

“Because of our gastrointestinal problems, we don’t absorb nutrients well, so one of the perks of CF is that we can eat whatever we want,” she said. Even so, Love is a vegetarian. She usually eats five small meals daily, with breakfast being her main meal — and she snacks all day long.

Speaking of food, each November, Love’s parents host an event called Taste of Utah. Tickets cost $200 each, and 30 restaurants around the state participate. Last year, the annual fundraiser generated just over $400,000 toward CF research.

Yet, Love herself doesn’t travel much. In fact, she said, “I’m never gone from my house for more than four hours. There are some days I can’t even get out of bed. I also have asthma, which makes things difficult.”

In addition, Love regularly experiences catamenial hemoptysis, a rare hormonal condition that causes her to cough up blood a couple of days before her period. And although she doesn’t have CF-related diabetes or liver disease, motherhood, she said, isn’t a good option for her.

“I grew up knowing that I wasn’t going to have kids,” she said. “I’ve had many friends with CF who have kids, and their health takes a huge decline. Also, I could never be the kind of mom I would want to be. When your child is sick, your first instinct is to cuddle them. But if we get sick, it’s a two-week stay in the joint.”

With the median age of survival for newborns with CF now in the early 40s, Love realizes that a double lung transplant is in her future — though the prospect of such a serious and potentially risky operation is daunting.

“I’m not quite there yet,” she said. “You can’t be too healthy, and you can’t be too sick. But I would absolutely opt for a transplant when the time is right.”

Losing disability insurance is a possible nightmare for those with CF

Original article on CBS This Morning

Megan Willis lives with cystic fibrosis, a deadly disease that causes extensive lung damage. The 22-year-old said she spends around six hours a day administering medications and therapy, and that the disease frequently causes infections and other complications.

With the condition, Willis qualified as a disabled adult for Social Security benefits on living expenses. About 10 million other Americans too disabled for work also get the stipend, called Disability Insurance. More importantly, having Social Security gave Willis access to Medicaid, which paid her annual health care costs of over $100,000.

But in March, Social Security sent her a letter saying her health had improved since the last review of her case and that she was able to work. This was news to Willis.

“My health has only gotten worse in the past year,” Willis told CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook.

Despite that, her Social Security benefits were terminated and she lost Medicaid. Since she lives in Florida, one of 14 states without expanded Medicaid, she had no other way to get it. Her family can’t afford private insurance.

While the medical bills mounted, she began law school.

“I don’t want to just stay stagnant and you know, depressed, looking at the four walls of my room,” Willis said. “I want to move up in the world even if you know it’s going to be hard.”

Willis also contacted attorney Beth Sufian, who runs the Cystic Fibrosis Legal Hotline and has cystic fibrosis herself. Sufian said, “We’ve seen a five-times increase in the number of people with cystic fibrosis that have been reviewed in the past 18 months. And we think that Social Security is targeting young people with chronic illness in an effort to reduce the number of people getting benefits.”

By law, disability claims are periodically reviewed to see if recipients are still eligible for benefits. Over the last decade, to combat a backlog, full medical reviews quadrupled to an expected 900,000 this year.      

“It really is a life or death situation for all of our clients when they lose their benefits,” Sufian said.   

In Willis’ case, Social Security ultimately reconsidered and she was able to get back on disability in November. She was hospitalized around Thanksgiving, and Medicaid kicked in and the bills were covered, her mother Wendy said.

But Willis’s lawyer still has about 200 pending cases of people with cystic fibrosis who are first getting reviewed and those who are appealing.

***

Losing disability insurance can have devastating consequences for those with CF. Our very own Vice President, Beth Sufian, helps many individuals get on and stay on disability. For the full story go to https://www.cbsnews.com/…/what-happens-when-someone-loses-…/

Insufficient antibiotics available for cystic fibrosis patients: Study

Turns out, the majority of patients with cystic fibrosis may not achieve blood concentrations of antibiotics sufficiently high enough to effectively fight bacteria responsible for pulmonary exacerbations, thus leading to worsening pulmonary function.

Cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that affects about 70,000 people worldwide, is characterised by a buildup of thick, sticky mucus in patients’ lungs. There, the mucus traps bacteria, causing patients to develop frequent lung infections that progressively damage these vital organs and impair patients’ ability to breathe.

A recent study led by researchers at Children’s National Health System shows that it’s impossible to predict solely from dosing regimens which patients will achieve therapeutically meaningful antibiotic concentrations in their blood. The findings were published online in the Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

These infections, which cause a host of symptoms collectively known as pulmonary exacerbations, are typically treated with a combination of at least two antibiotics with unique mechanisms. One of these drugs is typically a Beta-lactam antibiotic, a member of a family of antibiotics that includes penicillin derivatives, cephalosporins, monobactams and carbapenems.

Although all antibiotics have a minimum concentration threshold necessary to treat infections, Beta-lactam antibiotics are time-dependent in their bactericidal activity. Their concentrations must exceed a minimum inhibitory concentration for a certain period. However, study’s lead author Andrea Hahn explained that blood concentrations of Beta-lactam antibiotics aren’t typically tracked while patients receive them.

Since antibiotic dosing often doesn’t correlate with cystic fibrosis patients’ clinical outcomes, Dr. Hahn and other researchers examined whether patients actually achieved serum antibiotic concentrations that are therapeutically effective.

In addition, all the patients underwent pulmonary function tests at the start of their exacerbations and about once weekly until their antibiotic therapy ended.

Using the data points, the researchers constructed a model to determine which patients had achieved therapeutic concentrations for the bacteria found in their respiratory secretions. They then correlated these findings with the results of patients’ pulmonary function tests. Just 47 per cent of patients had achieved therapeutic concentrations. Those who achieved significantly high antibiotic exposure had more improvement on their pulmonary function tests compared with patients who didn’t.

Paradoxically, they discovered that although each patient received recommended antibiotic doses, some patients had adequately high serum antibiotic concentrations while others did not.

Another way to ensure patients receive therapeutically meaningful levels of antibiotics is to develop new models that incorporate variables such as age, gender, and creatinine clearance–a measure of kidney function that can be a valuable predictor of metabolism–to predict drug pharmacokinetics.

Using findings from this research, Dr. Hahn adds, Children’s National already has implemented an algorithm using different variables to determine antibiotic dosing for patients treated at the hospital.

Original article here.

Congratulations to Our Scholarship Winners!

The US Adult CF Association (USACFA) is excited to announce our recipients of the Lauren Melissa Kelly Scholarship for the Spring of 2019.

In our evaluation, we look for students who demonstrate tremendous academic achievement, community involvement and a powerful understanding of how having CF matched with these achievements places them in a unique situation to gain leadership roles within the community. Our scholarship is open to all pursuing any degree, from associates to Ph.Ds. We believe that any higher education is a strong foundation for advocacy and involvement in CF.

We are pleased to announce Rebecca Cedillo and Michael Miccioli as the recipients of this semesters’ scholarship. Congratulations to them! They will be awarded $2500 each.

Both of our recipients demonstrated the leadership, intelligence, and drive of Lauren Melissa Kelly. We at USACFA look forward to seeing them further develop their leadership and advocacy in the cystic fibrosis community.

We are excited to announce more scholarship opportunities coming soon! Please stay tuned for more information. For questions, please contact us at scholarships@usacfa.org.

CFReSHC meeting on Aging, Menopause and CF

What is menopause? I’m 30 years old and have heard it groused about for years, but I really don’t know what it is. I have heard from older women with CF that maybe it starts earlier in CF women and that the experience could be different from the non-CF population. I know it has something to do with hormonal changes, more estrogen, maybe? But I have no idea how it will impact my health in the future or what signs and symptoms I should be on the lookout for. On this one, I will follow the girl scouts’ mantra “always be prepared.”

Luckily, CFReSHC is hosting their next Patient Task Force meeting about the menopause experience. It is a great opportunity for any adult woman with CF to learn about what to expect in a few years’ time or to share your wisdom and questions if you’re experiencing or have experienced it.

The meeting will be December 10th from 2-4pm EST.  Laura Mentch, Health Educator, will be sharing her knowledge on the subject.

Please email info@CFReSHC.org, or follow us on facebook for more information.

Recapping the last month of podcasts!

CF Podcast 198: The Art of Healing

In the latest Cystic Fibrosis Podcast, Jerry met with Dylan Mortimer – a 38-year-old artist who lives in New York City with his wife and two sons. As a CF patient, Dylan uses his art to represent his journey with the disease – and to inspire others in their battles to never settle for their diagnoses and keep hope alive past the difficulties they face.
The video podcast was made possible through an unrestricted educational grant from Gilead to the Boomer Esiason Foundation.

CF Podcast 199: Living Life after a Double Lung and Liver Transplant

Jerry Cahill chatted with Kathryn Norris about her journey with cystic fibrosis in his latest podcast. Diagnosed at 3 months, Kathryn soon moved back to her mother’s home-country, Spain, where she had a different experience growing up with CF. Because of socialized healthcare, she had a great deal of access to specific medications, but no access to more recently discovered treatments. In her hometown, walking to and from school helped her fit exercise into her daily life, as well as a number of extracurriculars including tennis, swim, roller blading, and more.
Tune in to learn more about Kathryn – her path with CF to a double lung transplant and a liver transplant, why she is studying to be a personal trainer, and how she copes with her disease.
This podcast was made possible through an unrestricted education grant from the Allergan Foundation to the Boomer Esiason Foundation.

CF Podcast 200: Being a CF Mom

Today’s CF podcast features Megan Neville – a CF mother and caregiver. She shares her story – from learning of her son’s diagnosis to dealing with the guilt of that news to how she now deals with a teenager who has a chronic illness. She reflects on the importance of having an incredible support system of family and friends surrounding her and how raising a CF child can be a team effort.
Tune in to learn more about Megan and her journey as a CF mom.
This video podcast was made possible through an unrestricted educational grant from the Allergan Foundation to the Boomer Esiason Foundation.

CF Podcast 201: Being a Lung Transplant Coordinator

Today’s Cystic Fibrosis Podcast features Nilani Ravichandran, current AVP for Cardiothoracic and Vascular Services at Beth Israel Medical Center, who spent over 17 years as a lung transplant coordinator at NY Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. She sat down with Jerry Cahill to explain what transplant coordinators do, how they work to minimize infection and rejection, and how they teach their patients to care for their new organs. Nilani says that a transplant coordinator’s goal is to give his or her patients the best quality of life possible when they reach the end stages of their diseases.
This video podcast was made possible through an unrestricted educational grant from Chiesi to the Boomer Esiason Foundation.

CF Podcast 202: Being Grateful

With the holiday season approaching, everyone starts to think about why they are grateful. In this video, a number of post-double lung transplant recipients share their reasons for being grateful, how they honor their donors, and more.
Don’t forget – registering to be an organ donor can save a life! Register today: donatelife.org.
This video podcast was made possible through an unrestricted educational grant from Chiesi to the Boomer Esiason Foundation.

As Both Patient and Scientist, I’m Putting Nature’s Medicine to the Test

By Ella Balasa

I peered into one of the incubators that stored my petri dishes for 24 hours, anxious to see whether I would discover discoloration and unevenness on the surface, which would have indicated that my experiment produced favorable results. I wanted to see a visual representation of whether manuka honey kills the stubborn Pseudomonas bacterium, which dwells in nearly half of the lungs affected by CF.

I’m a microbiology lab scientist, plus an inquisitive writer. I also consider myself an informed, self-advocating realist. Life experiences have taught me that I am solely responsible for my health. I strive to keep my health stable through prescribed medications, healthy diet, and some natural supplements.

During my college years, I focused on the environment, especially the living parts that we can’t see but that are essential to the cycle of life — bacteria. It just so happens that certain ones are, understatedly, little pests for people with CF. The lung bacteria of people with CF birth many symptoms and infections.

I continually fight Pseudomonas aeruginosa, my nemesis bacterium that spikes fevers within days of overwhelming my immune system and that has caused countless infections, leaving my lungs with pockets of dead tissue. I take antibiotics frequently, but I also believe that naturally derived compounds can have positive effects. So, despite my disdain and nausea, I sometimes supplement garlic, which contains the antibacterial compound ajoene. I’ve also consumed manuka honey; this I’ve done more religiously, as it tastes more like candy than any “medication.” Manuka honey contains the natural antibiotic methylglyoxal, a compound that fights relentless Pseudomonas by causing its cells to burst and die. I took a spoonful a day for a few years until recently. Maybe I stuck to this exorbitantly priced, palatable remedy merely because of its taste and the flawed logic that expensiveness is indicative of effectivity.

I had the idea to test the effectiveness of the honey on my sputum. My mucus grows many species of bacteria, but Pseudomonas is a primary component, so it’s easy to propagate in the lab setting.

Yes, I took a sputum cup of mucus into work. When inoculating the vials with the bacteria, I was slightly anxious that my lab mates might freak out at the sight of the hazardous and vile-looking green blobs. Then again, they work with wastewater from treatment plants, so it really shouldn’t phase them.

I tested a concentration of 15 percent weight per volume of manuka honey, a choice informed by published studies. I tested half of the petri dishes with honey mixed into the nutrients for the bacteria and the other half without the honey. The dishes with the honey should have less bacterial growth if the treatment works. (If you want more detail on the process, drop a comment below this column.)

The yellow dish has the honey added and the white dish doesn’t. (Photo by Ella Balasa)

After the 24-hour incubation period, I was excited to see the results of science that we as patients typically do not participate in. We provide our sputum samples during doctor’s appointments, then labs perform antibiotic resistance tests, and results are returned as values on a piece of paper indicating resistance or susceptibility. We don’t see the process. I was doing this same research on my own, and in a sense, taking the utmost control of my health.

To continue reading, click here.

We Thank You!!

We sincerely thank each and every one of you who donated to CF Roundtable yesterday on Giving Tuesday.

Your contributions are immeasurable! Your support of our organization means the support of many many individuals with CF to help join us as a community and to help spread awareness and resources.

Thank you!

Happy Holidays!

Giving Tuesday is tomorrow!

Dear CF Roundtable Subscriber,

Please consider donating to CF Roundtable tomorrow on Giving Tuesday, November 27th, a national day of giving.

For double the impact, The McComb Foundation will match your donation!!

Your generous past contributions have been essential in helping those with cystic fibrosis find support, medical information and resources through CF Roundtable.

As one reader shared, “I believe my mental and physical health is in a better place than it would be without CF Roundtable. From the importance of exercise, to tips on traveling, to summaries of medical journal articles (some of which not even my doctor was aware of!) – all have had a positive influence on my life. But perhaps the most impactful aspect has been lessening feelings of isolation of living with such a cruel, isolating disease. Thank you!”

Because of you:

  • All of our readers receive the CF Roundtable newsletter at no cost.
  • Our publication & website have the latest research, legal and critical knowledge that has helped to maximize medical care.
  • CF Roundtable gives scholarships to students with CF who are striving for higher education.
  • Our Speakers Bureau presenters (who are all adults with CF) speak at your CF events and spread education and support about CF.
  • We can continue all of this and more!

CF Roundtable is run by a board of adults with CF from our editors to our directors. Our time is 100% voluntary. Together, we create the CF Roundtable publication, website, and numerous programs. We do this for you and our vital CF community.

We hope to count on your support this year. Ultimately, your gift would keep CF Roundtable and the miracles coming! Please go to our website at www.cfroundtable.com or click here and donate!

Nutritional Well-Being After Transplant Measure of Likely Lung Health

By Joana Carvalho

The study, “Impact of nutritional status on pulmonary function after lung transplantation for cystic fibrosis,” was published in the United European Gastroenterology Journal.

CF is the third most common cause for lung transplants worldwide (16.8 percent of all cases). Although the disease is mostly associated with respiratory symptoms, gastrointestinal complications are also known to afflict patients, such as diarrhea, constipation, malnutrition, and inflammation in the pancreas, liver and intestines.

Previous studies suggest that malnutrition is linked to a poor prognosis in those needing a lung transplant. However, data on the impact of nutritional status on pulmonary function in those who have received a transplant is still quite limited.

In a retrospective study, a team of researchers at the Medical University of Vienna set out to evaluate the impact of nutritional status on pulmonary function of CF patients who underwent a double lung transplant within a median of 2.3 years.

Patients’ nutritional status was assessed using two different criteria: body mass index (BMI; kg/m2), and body composition measured by bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) — a technique that allows researchers to estimate body composition, especially fat content, by calculating the resistance posed by body tissues to the passage of an electrical current.

Lung health was analyzed by spirometry, a common test based on the amount of air a person can inhale and quickly exhale.

Investigators analyzed a total of 147 spirometries and BIAs performed on 58 CF patients (median age, 30.1), who were divided into four groups depending on their BMI scores. These groups were set according to BMI the guidelines defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), were: malnutrition (less than 18.5 kg/m2), normal weight (18.5–24.9 kg/m2), overweight (25.0–29.9 kg/m2), or obese (more than 30 kg/m2).

Data showed that malnourished patients (27.6%) had a significantly poorer in lung function than those of normal weight (63.8%) or overweight (8.6%), as measured by the percentage of forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1% predicted, 57% vs 77%), and the percentage of maximum vital capacity (percent predicted, 62% vs 75%).

Investigators also found that lung function measured by FEV1% worsened over time in malnourished patients (decreasing by up to 15%), unlike normal weight and overweight individuals. In these patients, FEV1% remained stable throughout the observation period (median of 10.3 months).

Further analysis also showed that the ratio of extracellular mass (ECM) over body cell mass (BCM), as measured by BIA, accurately predicted lung function over time in CF transplant recipients, suggesting that BIA is superior to BMI in predicting patients’ pulmonary function.

The team concluded “nutritional status assessed by BIA predicted lung function in CF transplant recipients,” and suggested that “BIA represents a non-invasive, safe, fast, mobile, and easy-to-use procedure to evaluate body composition. Thus, it may be used in everyday clinical practice and bears the advantage of repeatability at every patient follow-up.”

The researchers also emphasized the importance of multidisciplinary patient care provided by dietitians and gastroenterologists to try and prevent or diminish malnourishment in CF patients, and so help preserve lung function after a transplant.

Original article here.